Someone in the food industry once told me a fact I’ve never forgotten: for every ten restaurants that open today, seven will close within two years. And that was during the boom times. In today’s gloomy climate though, I suspect even more restaurants will fall, and in a shorter time period.
Wedged away in an awkward corner of Esplanade Mall, Barossa is a self-styled Australian restaurant and wine bar that really hasn’t done its homework. For starters, there is no Australian involvement at all. The owners aren’t Australian, nor is the (Malaysian) chef, the wait-staff or the managers. It’s a little like a group of Italians suddenly deciding to open a Peranakan restaurant and hiring an Argentinian chef.
The menu suffers most. What’s so Australian about miso cod fillet, mushroom soup, mango-tandoori-chicken pizza, or spaghetti and meatballs? Worse, an order of lemon, lime and bitters – the true acid test of how fair dinkum you really are – had too much lime cordial and had to be sent back.
The food that arrived at the table was either passable or forgettable. Passable: thin slices of reddish-pink Tasmanian smoked salmon was prettily encircled like a Christmas wreath with grapefruit slices, asparagus and rocket. Not bad, not great; nothing that screamed out for a return visit. Forgettable: three seared scallops served with an indifferent pile of polenta and overcooked asparagus spears.
Fish & Chips and Roast Beef at Barossa
There were interminably long waits between courses – you could feel the rising irritation of surrounding tables as the kitchen struggled and the understaffed team dashed about ineffectively. This was also the first time in my life that I actually asked for the service charge to be taken off the bill (you can do that, you know; just be fair about it). When the carbonara finally arrived, the tubular pasta was criminally undercooked and paired with what looked, and tasted, like overnight Canto-styled roast pork; meanwhile the linguine ragout had no trace of the advertised pesto and asparagus. The solitary highlight was an excellent fish and chips, the batter perfectly crisp and the chips with just the right heft.
Desserts were utterly unmemorable and I’m able to write about them now only thanks to diligent note-taking at the time. Why fix something that ain’t broke, I wondered, looking at the ho-hum lamington pound-cake with a wodge of cream in the middle. It was showered with what looked like grated cheese but turned out to be white chocolate. What’s wrong with just serving a brick of well-made lamington?
And just to double-check that our Saturday night experience wasn’t atypical, I went back on a weekday for lunch. At least this time an early-1990s Aussie rock group, called 1927, was playing. There were two other tables and the food emerged from the kitchen at a brisker pace, though its quality was no better. There was a dull mozzarella salad comprising green olives, bland rocket and, oddly, a vinegary pesto sauce. Aussie rojak, in other words. The roasted mushroom soup lacked punch. The cod fillet was flaky and sweet, but we could have done without the accompanying bowl of mushroom salad tossed through with bitter burnt garlic.
When the kurobuta ham pizza arrived, the pleasant pungency of the ham against the thin crust was a welcome surprise, though my dining companion said he couldn’t tell if he was enjoying the pizza because it really was good, or because his expectations had fallen so low.